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Salt Lake City considers allowing higher density to incentivize affordable housing

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How do you feel about taller buildings, fewer landscaping requirements or less parking for new projects in your neighborhood? (Photo: KUTV)

How do you feel about taller buildings, fewer landscaping requirements or less parking for new projects in your neighborhood?

Salt Lake City is asking residents to take a survey with those questions, starting the process for relaxing zoning standards for projects that include affordable units.

City planners are hoping fewer restrictions and higher density will make it more economically attractive for developers to include affordable units in their proposals. They’re just beginning the process of shaping a proposal.

James Wood, senior fellow with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute who’s studied Utah housing for decades, said “it’s nothing but positive.” He said higher density is necessary to making housing more affordable.

Salt Lake City, for a number of years now, has been the leader among all municipalities in Utah in addressing the issue of affordable housing and coming up with innovative ways to stimulate the production of affordable housing.

In Austin, Texas, city leaders have allowed taller buildings for projects with affordable housing in one neighborhood since 2004. That’s sparked 822 affordable housing units, according to NPR affiliate KUT.

In Palo Alto, California, city leaders allowed higher density than normally allowed for a 59-unit affordable housing complex and a 102-unit condominium development, with 16 units offered below the market rate.

“They tweaked some development standards including reducing parking requirements, allowing a little more density and allowing a little more height — not dramatically,” said Gennady Sheyner, staff writer for Palo Alto Weekly.

Sheyner told 2News on Tuesday that the zoning changes have “not been a huge game-changer” for Palo Alto, which has a median home price north of $2.5 million.

“It’s clearly not as successful as many in the city hoped it would be,” he said.

Definitely not a panacea for the various challenges surrounding construction of housing, but it’s seen as a small step that could help a particular project here and there.

What Salt Lake City may allow depends on what residents and city leaders think will work best here.

Residents can complete the online survey through Jan. 15. City planners will then draft a plan, get more public feedback at meetings in the spring, and then city council could vote this summer.

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